12/02/2015 Scenes from a video provided by the mine showing the extend of the damage and rescue operation underway at Vantage Goldfields' Lily Mine in Barberton. Three mineworkers are yet to be retreived after the rescue operation went into it's eighth day. Picture: Screengabs Vantage Goldfiels Mine

Johannesburg – The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Workers Union (Amcu) on Friday called on the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to start a preliminary investigation into the mining disaster at Lily mine.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said the safety of mineworkers was still not regarded as a priority by the mining industry, adding that the Mine Health and Safety Act needed to be transformed.

Three workers – Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Mabuza and Solomon Nyarenda – have been trapped underground on February 5 when the container they were working in fell into a sinkhole created by a collapsed crown pillar, before it was covered by huge rocks at Vantage Goldfields Lily mine in Barberton, Mpumalanga.

Mathunjwa said though the union would have preferred removing the back-filling as a rescue mission at the site of the collapsed mine, their method was not “scientifically calculated” and they had to live with the decision confirmed by the DMR to open a new decline shaft which would take six months.

“We need to be clear that this does not suggest that once the decline shaft is completed, the container will be immediately recovered. There will still be another search operation that has to take place and that is the reality everyone must live with,” Mathunjwa said.

“We call upon the Ministry to start a preliminary investigation into what led to this tragedy.”

The Mineral Resources department has previously indicated that the investigation of the collapse would begin once the container was recovered from underground.

Mathunjwa was addressing the media on various issues related to the mining industry, including retrenchments, attacks and killings of his union members in Rustenburg, and allegations of corruption within the union.

Mathunjwa said Amcu was worried about contemplated retrenchments in the industry, and their impact on the economy as a whole.

He said they were opposed to the strategy employed by mining companies to support competitiveness and sustainability as it resulted in job losses.

“As a union, we are opposed to this strategy which uses worker retrenchments as cannon fodder for profits and shareholder interests,” he said.

Mathunjwa claimed that through Amcu’s interventions, they had managed to save 6 000 jobs at Lonmin, and a further 1 600 at Impala Platinum mine, through reskilling and deployment.

Addressing the attacks on his union members, Mathunjwa said four Amcu members were shot at by unknown suspects recently at the Acquarius Platinum Mine in Rustenburg, resulting in one death.

He said he would not point fingers at anyone, adding that the Amcu was cooperating with police investigations.

Mathunjwa also criticised the media for how it covered the arrests of its members who were arrested for corruption at Impala Platinum mine.

It was reported last week that seven Amcu members, who were all trustees of the Impala Workers Provident Fund, were arrested by the Hawks at Impala Platinum mine for allegedly soliciting more than R2 million in bribes from an insurance company that administers its retirement funds.

Mathunjwa said those were ordinary members of Amcu, not trustees as it was reported, also saying the Hawks had verified that the suspects had solicited R35 000 and not R2 million from service providers.